Canada's "Greenest Home," in Peterborough, Ontario.

Peterborough – In 2012, folks at the Endeavour Centre, an innovative learning hub for sustainable home building techniques, had a vision to build Canada’s Greenest Home.

Set for a spec-home on an urban infill lot in central Peterborough, Ontario, the home would not only aspire to the highest standards of sustainable building, it would also achieve a modern aesthetic that would appeal to a wide range of potential homeowners.

“We wanted to build the home in a way that could be easily reproduced by any conventional contractor,” says Chris Magwood, sustainable builder, instructor and now executive editor at the Endeavour Centre. “One of our key goals was to ensure that we weren’t just promising improved environmental performance, but that we were achieving measurable results.”

After the design and construction phases were completed, the builders even took the opportunity to occupy the home for more than a year, just to ensure it was fully up to the environmental standards they had set out to create. After comparing the house with more conventional homes in the marketplace, Magwood says they couldn’t be more pleased with the results.

The house boasts a whopping 7o-percent reduction in both annual energy and water use, as well as almost 90 percent reductions in landfill waste.

Builders used only locally sourced materials during construction.
Builders used only locally sourced materials during construction.


Perhaps most remarkable is that this level of performance was not necessarily difficult to achieve, and that any builder can reach the same standard of performance within a reasonable cost range.

“While this project made some more costly investments in PV, rainwater harvesting, composting toilets and solar hot water, a home built to the same level of performance without these ‘add-ons’ would be entirely cost-competitive,” says Magwood. “And other than the solar income, most of the metrics above would not change if we didn’t invest in these technologies.”

That’s exactly what Magwood is trying to prove, along with his students and other builders — that literally anybody can do this type of building, and do it on a relatively tight budget.

“We intentionally chose to buy off-the-shelf or easily accessible materials and products,” he says, “from Durisol foundation blocks to prefabricated straw bale wall panels to ready-made clay and lime paints. Everything in this home is available to builders, and every builder already has the skills to create something like this.”

It’s just one home, to be sure, but it’s not difficult to see the incredible impact this kind of sustainable building could have on the planet, if only more builders and developers followed suit.

You just have to take a look at the numbers: the US expects about one million new home starts per month in 2015, and Canada expects about 190,000. “If all of those homes reduced their energy use by the same amount as this project, that would be 89,250,000 gigajoules of energy savings, 189,210,000 litres of water saved, and 156,017,330 gigajoules of saved embodied energy,” says Magwood. “Those are meaningful numbers — the equivalent of the output of many nuclear generating stations! — and they are immediately achievable.”

Sustainable and cost-competitive, but also functional and livable.
Sustainable and cost-competitive, but also functional and livable.